While the climate debate rages on, few areas of government oversight have been left untouched or uncriticized. The US climate bill has been beaten and battered and the EPA has taken up the torch. Political interests from Alaska to Massachusetts have expressed doubt on climate change altogether. Companies are making big gambles on carbon trading but the concept is possibly one of the most contentious political issues of our time, with the current administration’s future hinging how it handles the climate debate and how America’s tax dollars are put to use to fight climate change. So with all of this uproar and debate, how did carbon capture and storage – considered by many to be an untested and unfeasible technology - receive hundreds of millions in funding today, in addition to billions in past funding for such projects?
Now, I don’t come down hard on either side of the CCS debate – I believe strongly in innovation and that we should investigating (and investing in) any and all solutions that have a reasonable hope of solving our climate issues. As with most technology solutions, CCS is not without it’s issues. Many analysts have suggested that CCS is not unlike most large-scale projects in the energy sector and cannot exist without substantial subsidies. Others claim that it only tethers America to an outdated energy supply such as coal (it’s the clean in the oxymoronic clean coal marketing term), something we should be moving away from in the search for clean, renewable energy. But I believe that CCS – like all climate technologies – should at least be investigated and has a place in our arsenal of climate solutions. The issue with CCS is that it’s the cleantech equivalent of the ‘devil you know’ – it’s a relatively known technology (at least in theory) and utilizes existing storage capacity from existing heavily polluting industries. So while it’s not really all that clean, it may be a viable short-term solution, worthy of consideration along with many of the other carbon mitigation solutions.
But that’s not what is happening here – it is profoundly unfair that CCS continues to receive significant federal funding while other, more established and tested methodologies such as carbon finance (in all its forms), carbon reduction technologies, and carbon regulations still languish in highly politicized and heated debate. It’s unfair to the market, to the environment, and ultimately to the American taxpayer who is footing the bill not only for these investments, but also for the future performance (or lack thereof) of CCS as a principal climate solution.
Again, I’m not against carbon capture but I am all for tech innovation and the continued investment in CCS (largely unfettered by the climate debate that has paralyzed other carbon innovations) is not how you create a level playing field for Cleantech in America. We should demand more from our leaders to promote innovation in cleantech by evaluating and supporting a wider range of solutions rather than focus limited tax dollars on proposed solutions whose benefits are weighted heavily towards the interests of a small number of industry players.
Michael is the former CEO of the Global Reporting Initiative, Carbonetworks, and other sustainability organizations. He has been an advisor and CEO in sustainability for almost 20 years, and writes about technology, sustainability, and social innovation.